Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cherry Blossom Season 2015

Cherry blossom front (expected)
Cherry Blossom Schedule 2015
Japan is not Japan without its cherry blossoms or sakura. Although the cherry blossoms can also be found in Korea, US and Canada, Japan "owned" it almost like a trademark.

Starbucks Japan has started serving its seasonal sakura-flavored beverage. Nestle also just released the sakura-flavored KitKat. I started seeing sakura pudding, sakura mochi, sakura ice cream, sakura tapioca and sakura sake. Loft also started selling sakura-filled postcards. Sakura flavored "somethings" is abounding in Japan signalling the start of cherry blossom season.

I think cherry blossom season should be a season on its own. People in Japan just go crazy during this time- drinking under sakura trees day and night, eating sakura-flavored food, travelling for miles just to see lines of sakura and just uttering "kawaii" and "sugoi" endlessly when seeing a sakura tree. I can't blame these Japanese. Cherry blossoms are really pretty to behold. I think even tourists know this making the cherry blossom season the busiest time of the year in Japan next to New Year's celebration.

Because we don't want to miss cherry blossoms and all the craziness that comes with it, here are some helpful websites:

1. The Bloom of Cherry Blossoms

This site has a nice cherry blossom schedule map that I can't fully copy. (So frustrating!) It also has a table that shows the schedule of the cherry blossoms in the last 10 years.

2. Tenki.JP

This is one of the official agencies that predicts the blooming of sakura. However, it's originally in Japanese and is only translated by Google so maybe some sentences won't make much sense. But it has a detailed information for each prefecture.

3. Be Okinawa

This is Okinawa's tourism website. Okinawa has the earliest sakura season. Apparently, it started last month.

4. Inside Kyoto: Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms Away from the Crowds

Kyoto's a popular spot for sakura viewing. If you want to miss the crowd but not the flowers, here's a great article written an author for Lonely Planet. He's also a long-time resident so I'm assuming this article provides great information.

5. 10 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid During Cherry Blossom Festival Tokyo 2015

This is a great article on cherry blossom viewing in Tokyo. It provides inside information on where to go, what to do and how to have a great time during the sakura season.

So start marking your calendars, plan for hanami and don't miss the sakura this year.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Part 3: Native vs. Non-Native English Teachers- Who Wins?


The first and second parts of this series showed the most common criticisms of native and non-native English teachers against each other.

Native teachers criticize non-native's English skills- accent, pronunciation, grammar and cultural knowledge. On the other hand, non-natives argue that a lot of native teachers give English teaching a bad name. 

(See Part 1 and Part 2)

In this last part, let's see the pros and cons of native and non-native teachers. Yes, you read the previous sentence right. Even native English teachers have disadvantages in ESL teaching. And yes, non-native teachers have some advantage against native teachers.

In the early 1990's, Peter Medgyes did an interesting research regarding the perceived differences between native and non-native English teachers. More than 300 ESL teachers- natives and non-natives, from 11 countries were surveyed in this study.

Here's the summary of his study's results. He divided the results into 4 parts.

A. Own Use of English

Native teachers/ Non-native teachers:
- speak better English and speak more confidently / speak poorer English and less confidently
- use real language / use "bookish" language

B. General Attitude
- more innovative, more flexible and more casual / adapts a guided approach, more cautious and more strict
- less emphatic and less committed / more emphatic and more committed
- attend to perceived needs / attend to real needs
- have far-fetched expectations / have realistic expectations

C. Attitude on Teaching English
- less insightful/ more insightful
- use less to no L1/ use more L1
- translates less/ translates more
- give less homework and fewer tests/ gives more homework and more tests
- focused on fluency, meaning, colloquial / focused on accuracy, form, grammar,
  registers and oral skills                            formal registers and printed word

D. Attitude on Teaching Culture
- supply more cultural information/ supply less cultural information

Aside from these results, his study also highlighted the following findings:

1. Native teachers are definitely more proficient in the language. However, proficiency does not mean efficiency in teaching.

2. Although non-native teachers are not as proficient as the native teachers, they use more effective language-learning strategies and they are more sensitive to their students. They also anticipate and prevent language difficulties better than native teachers.

3. Native teachers supply more cultural information while non-native supply more information about the English language.

4. Native teachers provide good language model while non-native teachers provide good learner model.

So Who Wins Now?

After all the arguments and presenting these findings, who ultimately is the better teacher?

As cliche as this will go, I would still have to conclude that it depends on the learner's purpose and level.
If a learner is a beginner or feels overwhelmed by studying English, a non-native teacher seemed to be a better choice. If a learner is already proficient and want to use English in more contextual way, a native teacher is a good choice.We also have to factor in the learner's learning style.

The argument between the natives and non-natives will continue as ESL teaching is constantly evolving. What's good to keep in mind is that: Just like other professions, to be an effective ESL teacher is not dependent on one's country of origin.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Part 2: Native vs. Non-Native English Teachers

The first part of this Native versus Non-Native English Teachers series dealt with the most common arguments of native teachers against non-natives. These complaints are related their language skills- accent, pronunciation, grammar and cultural knowledge.

(See Part 1 here)

On the other hand, non-natives' most common defense are related more on native teachers' view and attitude of ESL teaching. I'm not a native speaker so I don't know what's going on in a native speaker's mind. I can only offer possible explanations why native teachers are perceived in a certain way and why perceptions are not always the reality.
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